‘Last night was odd’

Zoom bombs disrupt Pennington Council meeting

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ANDREW HARRISON/STAFF
Entrance into the Pennington Police Department at Borough Hall.

A Pennington Council Zoom meeting’s public comment was disrupted with a “Zoom bombing” of antisemitic remarks, inappropriate comments and cursing.

The disruption was made during the first public comment section of the Pennington Council’s March 4 meeting.

“I know just not me, but I think I can speak for the Council that we were appalled by the offensive and disruptive behavior during last night’s meeting and with malicious individuals Zoom bombing the event using profane language and reprehensible antisemitic slurs, which is unacceptable,” Mayor Jim Davy said.

“This kind of unacceptable conduct really goes against our core Pennington values of respect and inclusivity.”

A “Zoom bomb” happens when uninvited people join a Zoom meeting or online meeting and cause disruptions with offensive remarks and disruptive audio or video.

Davy explained that the Pennington Police Department will be investigating the incident to see if they can identify the people responsible for the Zoom bombing and felt the incident was a concerted effort by a group and not a single individual.

“We are going to spend some time with law enforcement to see if we can track down who they were and hold them accountable,” he added.

Davy has also asked Borough Attorney Walter Bliss to look into ways to better control against another potential Zoom bomb disruption.

“It is hard to [control] … from when the words leave their mouths, we cut them off as we did last night. But sometimes that is a nanosecond too late,” he said.

Pennington will look at measures such as pre-registration and at ways to ensure that when people come to their meetings, they speak about only borough municipal government matters only.

“I think we will probably put something in our opening statement to say that. We have got to find some ways,” Davy added. “We are not the only town that has experienced this. We will probably do some surveying of other towns to see what they do to control it.”

Multiple Zoom-bombers made their attempts to disrupt the Council meeting by using fake names and addresses not in Pennington. By the second Zoom bomb attempt, the mayor, Council President Catherine “Kit” Chandler, fellow council members cut off the offensive remarks and slurs.

Chandler remarked, “What is going on tonight. Can we be done with this. I’m done.”

Councilman John Valenza added, “If it is not a clear taxpayer that we know has a real issue [and real address] just shut them off.”

As attempts were made in public comment Chandler checked people’s names on White pages with the addresses they gave and if the names did not match, they were not given the chance to speak.

“There were some we did not bring in because of the way they had their names on the attendees list. We did not even bring them in,” Davy noted to the Hopewell Valley News. “You could tell by the way they wrote their names they were not real.”

The governing body and Davy cut off the rest of the first public comment period. They heard from two Pennington residents and moved on to the rest of the meeting agenda.

In the second and final public comment section, there was another Zoom bomb attempt. There were more than a combined six attempts and Zoom bombs during the public comment sections of the meeting.

“I haven’t had a Zoom-bombing since I have been mayor, but I do understand that during the COVID-19 pandemic year of 2020 there was an incident,” Davy said. “It has not been a prevalent problem.

“Last night was odd.”